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‘Is the community ready for it?’ Incoming Edmonton police chief lauds innovative policing strategy

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In September 2012, Samson Cree Nation leaders got an urgent call.

Local schools were “filled with young children dressed up in gang colours,” Chief Vernon Saddleback recalled.

Gangs were terrorizing the community 90 kilometres south of Edmonton with drive-by shootings, break-ins and violence.

Residents were demanding to know how the band planned to deal it.

The situation spurred Saddleback — then a newly elected councillor — and the band to adopt a radically different policing approach.

Now, a key part of the community’s safety strategy,  it’s known as the Hub model — a multi-agency intervention that mobilizes social services for those in need before harm is done.

One of the architects of the Hub model is incoming Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee, who was police chief in Prince Albert, Sask., when the strategy was pioneered in Canada in 2011.

“The Hub model saves lives,” says a paper co-authored by McFee in 2014. “It connects people at risk to the services that can help them, when they need them most. It stops crime before it happens.”

As McFee leaves his latest post as deputy minister of Corrections and Policing in Saskatchewan for his new Edmonton position in February, the Hub’s expansion throughout Saskatchewan and beyond is noteworthy.

Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback is helping nearby communities adopt the Hub community safety model. (Samson Cree Nation)

The model is used by about 140 locations in North America including Charlottetown, Ottawa, Toronto and Surrey.

The program is also quietly spreading in a pocket of central Alberta under Samson Cree and Maskwacis RCMP leadership. Proponents say the Hub model is among the initiatives improving safety in their community.

RCMP figures show an 11-per-cent decrease in the severity of crimes in Maskwacis from 2016 to 2017. The number of charges laid is declining. On-reserve suicides at Samson Cree are down, with just one this year compared to nine in 2015.

Rather than targeting youth associated with gangs, the Hub model focused on assisting their families. Instead of a culture of silence that once allowed gang violence to fester, residents now call police, said Saddleback. Hub members or a mobile mental health unit are dispatched to those in need.

“Nowadays it’s a different energy — people just feel safer and happier,” said Saddleback. “People are responding to try and make our community a safer and happier place to live.”

Nowadays it’s a different energy — people just feel safer and happier– Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback

In an interview with CBC, McFee extolled the benefits of the Hub model but said he needed to look at existing programs, compare the data and talk to people before deciding if it’s a fit for Edmonton.

“It’s pretty hard that it’s probably not a fit,” said McFee. “It’s more, is the community ready for it? And if they’re ready for it, who do we need to engage at that table?”

In February 2011, Prince Albert police launched the Hub model in response to escalating crime rates and police calls, and a recognition that enforcement alone was not the answer. The strategy was inspired by a program used in Glasgow, Scotland.

Within months, crimes against people and property in Prince Albert were down by at least 10 per cent. There were fewer calls for service. Other communities that have since adopted the model have tailored it to suit their circumstances but the formula stays the same.

How it works

Twice a week, representatives from community agencies,  police, child welfare, schools and other groups discuss cases around a “Hub table” for 90 minutes.

Information is shared, but some details are withheld, where necessary, to protect privacy.

The goal is to offer services within 24 to 48 hours to reduce risk factors such as substance abuse, mental health issues or family violence.  It often involves knocking on someone’s door or meeting with family members.

In Saskatchewan, McFee said, 81 per cent of police calls for service don’t lead to criminal charges. He suspects it’s similar in Edmonton.

“That right there tells you that we’re asking the police to be the social worker, the mental health worker and everything else,” he said.

It’s way more advantageous to the individual who needs the service and obviously it’s a heck of a lot more cost effective– Incoming Police Chief Dale McFee

The Hub takes people out of the justice system and puts them on the path to recovery while reducing demand for services. “It’s way more advantageous to the individual who needs the service and obviously it’s a heck of a lot more cost effective,” McFee said.

In Saskatchewan, the information is collected in a data base created with the Ministry of Justice and the University of Saskatchewan to shape policy and improve service delivery. Government staff support Hub tables by troubleshooting and fielding questions.

“At the end of the day you can’t fix what you don’t know,” said McFee. “So we use that data proactively to figure out how we can actually start to focus on the right thing.”

He emphasized the approach is not about being soft on crime, but rather being smart about community safety. “We need to put the bad people in jail and not the poor souls,” McFee told Edmonton media in November.

“If your only response is the justice system, what you tend to do is you don’t do a very good job of sorting intake and you overload your justice system.”

Reduced demand for services

In Edmonton, where the index that measures the severity of crime has remained higher than the national average for eight years, the police service collaborates with community partners on several programs that help divert people from the justice system.

The Heavy Users of Services (HUoS) program was introduced in 2013. An EPS analysis showed that clients, on average, have 64 per cent fewer visits to hospital emergency departments, 75 per cent fewer admissions to hospital, 84 per cent fewer inappropriate interactions with officers, according to an analysis by police.

An Edmonton police analysis shows the change in interactions for an average person involved in the Heavy Users of Services program. (Edmonton Police Service)

Despite that, new criminal court cases have nearly doubled in Edmonton to 46,000 since 2012. Calls for public drunkenness and mental health issues are up this year by roughly seven per cent.

In December, city council approved an extra $75 million to hire 101 new officers.

Chad Nilson, a scholar at the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and Justice Studies, studies the impact of Hub models in use.

Academic Chad Nilson says just five per cent of Hub clients refuse support. (Chad Nilson)

He developed the database now used by 100 Hubs across Canada, many of which he helped establish.

Nilson emphasized the Hub is a rapid intervention for people whose risk has drastically increased, not someone chronically at risk.

“Too often we wait until people are full into crisis and then our systems react. This is about getting individuals to those services sooner,” said Nilson. His research shows just five per cent of clients refuse support.

But he insists the model is not just for communities in crisis.

“To me your community’s desire to have a Hub should not be driven by any data,” said Nilson.”It should be driven by the desire to do better.”

‘A great fit for every community’

A version of the Hub is being embraced by three bands next to Samson Cree, the nearby communities of Ponoka and Wetaskiwin, as well as Enoch Cree Nation.

All have received training from Maskwacis RCMP and Saddleback.

Maskwacis RCMP Const. Morgan Kyle said while some prioritize the targeting of criminal behaviour, the root cause may be as simple as struggling to put food on the table.

Through the Hub, the team can ask families what help they need. The ability to share information among agencies that have traditionally operated in silos allows a full picture to emerge, Kyle said.

Kyle helped create the local training program for interested communities that couldn’t afford the official Hub training.

“We were asked to put together a training program and offer it to communities for free because we see the value in the Hub program and we don’t want finances to be limiting communities,” Kyle told CBC. “I just think it’s a great fit for every community.”

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun

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Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces

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OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh

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OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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